Scratch Golfer: What is it and How to Become One? [2021]

Scratch Golfer: What is it and How to Become One? Article Feature Image
A scratch golfer is a golfer with a USGA handicap index of 0.0 who can be expected to shoot at or below par in 30% of rounds played.

What is a Scratch Golfer?

There are two definitions of a scratch golfer: the everyday, common definition and the technical, official definition.

Scratch Golfer: The Common Definition

In short, the common definition of a scratch golfer is a golfer that is really, really good.

More specifically, it’s a golfer that you’d expect to shoot par at most courses on any hole on any given day.

Golfers often throw this term around to generally mean “a really good golfer”. Maybe they’re referring to the best golfer they know. In reality, they probably don’t even know this golfer’s real handicap.

However, this isn’t the official definition…

Scratch Golfer: The Official, Technical Definition

The official definition of a scratch golfer is set by the USGA, and that definition is:

“A ‘scratch golfer’ is a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.”


“A player with a Handicap Index of 0.0”

You may have noticed that these definitions rely on more definitions: “Course Handicap” and “Handicap Index”. In other words, it’s complicated.

These are pretty dry, technical definitions which rely on the USGA’s official handicapping system.

It’s probably easier to understand what a scratch golfer is by looking at scratch golfers’ statistics…

Scratch Golfer Stats

Relative Frequency Distribution Plot Showing USGA Handicap Indexes for Men and Women and Highlighting the Relative Rarity of Scratch Golfers
Only 1.85% of Male Golfers and 0.69% of Female Golfers Become Scratch Golfers (USGA Handicap Index of 0.0 or Better)

Scratch golfers…

…Comprise 1.85% of male golfers
…Comprise 0.69% of female golfers
…Shoot par or 1 or 2 under with an average score of 73.1
…Hit the green in regulation on 59% of holes
…Fail to reach the green in regulation on 41% of holes
…Hit the fairway on 63% of intended shots
…Miss the fairway on 37% of intended shots
…Average 1.75 putts per hole and 31.5 putts per round
…Hit an average driver distance of 250 yards (Men) or 210 yards (Women)
…Reach the green in 2 strokes on a 470 yard hole (Men) or 400 yard hole (Women)
…Save par from the sand on 45% of attempts
…Miss par from the sand on 55% of attempts
…Reach driver ball speeds of 161mph/259kmh (Men) or 131mph/211kmh (Women)
Scratch Golfer Stats

So what do these stats tell us? Scratch golfers are very, very good. (But they aren’t perfect.)

What really sets a scratch golfer apart from the rest of us is what they do to become one. So how can you become a scratch golfer? (Hint: It’s not easy…)

8 Tips for Becoming a Scratch Golfer

8 Tips to Becoming a Scratch Golfer - Road Signs Image

Tip 1 | Practice Smart AND Hard

Scratch golfers practice and play far more than the average golfer. When scratch golfers practice, they practice smart.

Smart practice is sometimes called “deliberate practice“. This is a form of practice in which the golfer focuses on the weak points of their game. They are analytical in identifying those weak points and methodical in understanding the gap between good and great and how to practice to get there.

However, to become a scratch golfer, it isn’t enough to practice deliberately. You must also practice and play frequently and you must practice with focus and intensity. This means you’re not chatting idly with your friends or downing a six pack!

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Practice and play more often, more deliberately, and with more discipline.

Tip 2 | Track the Stats

So how do scratch golfers know the weak points in their game? They track their stats on and off the course

On the Course

It is not enough to track your score on each hole. The scratch golfer keeps track of each stroke:

Where were they positioned? What club did they use? What were the weather conditions? They take qualitative notes, such as how a swing felt. They might even take a video of each stroke!

Off the Course

Scratch golfers know how much they practice.

This includes how many hours and on which tasks. Additionally, they may use simulators and measurement devices to measure advanced stroke statistics like club speed, attack angle, ball speed, smash factor, launch angle, spin rate, max height, land angle, and carry.

Scratch golfers will monitor and improve all of these measurements over time.

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Consistently track and analyze detailed statistics about your golf game.

Tip 3 | Skill Self Awareness

Golfers use the knowledge they gain from practicing hard and smart to maintain self awareness on the course. In other words, they know their strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to make good decisions.

The non-scratch golfer does just the opposite. For example, they’ll take too little club for a shot or take too much risk!

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Scratch golfers understanding their game very well and act accordingly.

Tip 4 | Course Management & Shot Selection

The average golfer doesn’t usually have a strategy for a hole when the tee off. Scratch golfers are different. They devise a plan before entering the tee box.

A scratch golfer’s plan for any given hole will take into account their self awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes these strategies would be counterintuitive to the average golfer.

For instance, a scratch golfer may intentionally put themselves in the rough to set up a better shot at the green. Additionally, scratch golfers may be more willing to lay up than take a risky shot at the green.

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Plan and execute a strategy for how to attack each hole from tee to cup.

Tip 5 | The Mental Game

Mental and emotional awareness and management may be one of the biggest factors that separate them from average golfers. To begin, scratch golfers are extremely confident. This confidence comes from both their hard work and through deliberate training.

Top athletes are known to employ meditation, cognitive behavioral techniques, and positive affirmations to help steady their emotions and focus on the shot at hand. This is true of scratch golfers too.

Additionally, scratch golfers are much better at shaking off bad strokes, holes, and rounds. An average golfer might fall apart after a particularly bad hole. Not a scratch golfer has developed the ability to reset their mental and emotional state for every stroke.

So, to achieve scratch golf, you have to strengthen your mental game.

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Manage your thoughts and emotions–both on the course and in practice.

Tip 6 | Surround Yourself with Great Golfers

Have you ever heard the saying, “You are the average of five people you spend the most time with?” Guess what? The same is true with golf. If you spend all of your time on the course with average golfers, odds are, you’re going to be average too.

If you want to become a scratch golfer, you need to golf with scratch golfers. Why?

You will learn from them. You will watch how they plan their shots, how they pick their clubs, and how they manage their mental game. You will be able to ask for their advice.

You will be inspired by them. Spending time with people who are better than you at a particular activity is inspiring. You get to see someone do something you love at a high level, and it will motivate you to do the same. You will get to witness how they recover from bad shots and holes in ways that average golfers never do. You get excited by practicing with them and seeing how they practice smart and hard!

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: To be better, surround yourself with the best.

Tip 7 | Proper Equipment

What is proper equipment for a scratch golfer?

Proper equipment are clubs, balls, and accessories that are typically high end and that are well matched to the scratch golfers game.

This all goes back to “skill self awareness”. Scratch golfers know their strengths and weaknesses.

Scratch Golfer Clubs

What kind of clubs do scratch golfers use?

Hybrids or woods?

Blades or cavity back irons?

Do they use a putter insert?

There is no one answer. What you can be sure of is that for any given scratch golfer, those choices have been made intentionally and with their self awareness of their skills in mind.

HTG Recommends [2021]: Best Drivers | Best Irons | Best Putters

Scratch Golfer Accessories

For a scratch golfer, accessories aren’t an afterthought.

Do their golf shoes maintain fit and feel over 18 or 36 holes?

Is their bag light, easily accessible, and able to be properly packed?

What’s the best fleece pullover for chilly days on the course?

Is their hat cool for a hot day while also providing enough shade?

How do their gloves hold up to sweat and grime?

These are the types of questions scratch golfers ask of their accessories. This attention to detail gives them yet another slight edge over the average golfer.

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Carefully choose the equipment that matches your needs. The devil is in the details.

Tip 8 | Physical Fitness

Some people think that golf is not a very physical sport. But for scratch golfers, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Scratch golfers are playing and practicing very frequently and intensely, and this level of activity can lead to fatigue and injury. This is why scratch golfers take their physical fitness very seriously.

What does this look like?:

  • Cross training for both cardio and strength
  • Regular flexibility regimen
  • Proper diet and nutrition
  • Ample sleep, repair, and rehabilitation

Don’t miss HTG’s articles on golf fitness:

3 Ways to Improve
Your Golf Fitness
A Golf Strength
Training Exercise
The 12 Best Strength
Exercises for Golfers
An Effective Golf
Swing Exercise
Weight Training to
Revolutionize Your Golf Swing
Golf Exercises & Training
Tips for Senior Golfers

Scratch golfers know that maintaining good physical fitness also has mental benefits. These include the improvement of confidence and general mental well-being. All which lead to yet another advantage on the course.

Remember, nothing will derail a golfer’s pursuit of scratch golf faster than an injury. If you can’t play, you can’t improve.

Scratch Golf Bottom Line: Physical fitness is must if you’re pursuing scratch golf.

Scratch Golfer: The 9 Most Common Questions

Scratch Golfer: Most Common Questions Image - A Confused Golfer
These Are the 9 Most Common Questions We Get About Scratch Golfers

Scratch Golfer vs. Pro Golfer? (Is a Scratch Golfer a Pro?)

Generally, all professional golfers are going to be scratch golfers (or better). But not all scratch golfers are professional golfers. Both are great golfers, but the biggest difference between a scratch golfer and a professional is that a pro golfer is paid to golf competitively.

In reality, it’s not a useful distinction to make because the term “scratch golfer” refers to handicapping per the USGA rules. Generally, handicaps are not used in professional golf–everyone is on a level playing field and the person with the best absolute score wins.

What is Better Than a Scratch Golfer?

It is possible to be better than a scratch golfer. In other words, a golfer can have a handicap index of less than 1, meaning they may have to add (not subtract) strokes from their score. However, there isn’t an official term or designation for “better than scratch golfer”.

Why Is It Called Scratch Golfer?

The term “scratch golfer” derives from the phrase “from scratch”, meaning without assistance or any head start or preparation. In modern usage, the phrase “from scratch” is most often used in cooking and baking.

When someone makes a food “from scratch”, it means they made it from the most basic ingredients. For example, cookies “from scratch” would be made from butter, sugar, eggs, baking soda, salt, and flour. Not from a tube or tin of premade dough.  The same idea holds for a scratch golfer. They receive no benefit from their handicap. Their score is their score. It doesn’t get any help, it doesn’t get adjusted.

Is a Scratch Golfer Good?

Yes! Very. A scratch golfer can be expected to shoot par or better on any given hole at most golf courses under normal weather conditions. Very few people achieve scratch level golf.

Scratch Golfer vs. Bogey Golfer?

The USGA defines a bogey golfer as:

“A male “bogey golfer” is a player who has a Course Handicap of approximately 20 on a course of standard difficulty.”


“A female bogey golfer is a player who has a Course Handicap of approximately 24 on a course of standard difficulty.”

Whereas a scratch golfer is defined as “…a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses…  with a Handicap Index of 0.0.”

In other words, a scratch golfer is much, much more skilled and experienced than a bogey golfer and has a far lower handicap of 0.

Can I Become a Scratch Golfer In 1 Year?

Probably not, but nothing is impossible, but becoming a scratch golfer in 1 year would be very difficult. A few factors to consider are:

What is your current skill level? It is very hard to imagine a beginner golfer becoming a scratch golfer in 1 year without a massive investment of time, effort and money. A golfer with a handicap index of 5.0 might be able to pull it off by following our 8 tips.

Who Is the Oldest Scratch Golfer?

While there is no reliable data on the current oldest scratch golfer, there are many people who have played golf at an extremely high level late into life. Davis Love III won the 2015 Wyndham Championship at age 51 in 2015 and Gordon Gibbs was still playing single digit handicap golf until the age of 90!

How Many Scratch Golfers Are There?

According to the USGA, there are approximately 38,000 scratch golfers in the U.S.

Best Clubs for a Scratch golfer?

The clubs used by scratch golfers vary greatly from golfer to golfer. It will depend on the skills and preferences of each player. However, if you’re looking for a great set of clubs, check out these articles:

HTG Recommends [2021]: Best Drivers | Best Irons | Best Putters

Bonus Video – What Does It Take to Play Scratch Golf?

Here’s a great video from HOOA Golf on becoming a scratch golfer: